June 14, 2012

Medusa's Child....The Lost Bride of Dracula!



When the director of Apocalypse Now announces Bram Stoker’s much-filmed novel as his next production the anticipation level is off the charts as speculation rises as to just how Francis Ford Coppola will treat a vampire movie.  It is well known that actress Winona Ryder gave Coppola the novel to read, begging him to consider filming it and this was exactly how the whole project came about. Winona secured herself the female lead while the rest of the casting went to the then young Hollywood with the one exception of Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing.
"Hey Dracula, dude....what's up?"
         Perhaps it begins here with the casting that the film began to lose its momentum as to what could have been a classic horror film in the visual tradition of George Melies with the dark symbolism of Nosferatu. Keanu Reeves and Gary Oldman simply remain unfocused as Harker and Dracula respectively. The script remains the final blow to the project's opportunity for screen greatness as it misses the mark completely trying to create an epic love story where none existed in Stoker's novel.  Dracula is a tale of lust and retribution from beyond the grave and James Hart's screenplay drags in the tiresome old warhorse Vlad the Impaler as motivation in searching for the reincarnation of his bride much like the Karloff Mummy of 1932. However what remains is a visual masterpiece of set design and camera work and especially the superb costume design of Eiko Ishioka.

The most impressive sequence in Coppola's Dracula for me was the introduction of Dracula's brides and the intensely erotic draining of Keanu Reeves by three brides played by the stunning Michala Bercu and Monica Bellucci who were meant to look like princesses donated to Dracula by the lords of conquered lands and lastly, Florina Kendrick as the third and most dangerous bride since she is infested with snakes in her hair like a gorgon.  It is with Florina Kendrick that my experience with this film really began. Florina at the time of the film’s release was living with her husband in Long Beach while awaiting the results of months of preparation and work making Coppola's Dracula a reality.  Florina was a native of Cluj-Napoca, Romania and was hired as a consultant on Romanian culture and dialects. She taught Gary Oldman the Romanian he speaks in the film.



Florina and I met through publisher Fred Clark's magazine Imagi-Movies, an offshoot of Cinefantastique. In 1994, two years after Dracula was released Imagi-Movies decided to do a vampire issue and Florina made the cover wearing a unique make-up that was dropped before it could be filmed in which the brides appear in a chameleon-like camouflage using body paint that would render them invisible until they walked out of the curtains in the scene where they seduce Jonathan. Sadly, Francis discarded this after a well-known designer asserted it was not sexy enough. The sequence was to have been less than a minute on film and when it was abandoned it was decided the brides would have really long hair, all of them wore hair extensions, while remaining naked under their chiffon gowns.
Apocalypse Dracula?
Florina had only made one other movie after Dracula and that was a thriller called With Criminal Intent, (1995) so much of her focus when we met was on making enough of an impression in Dracula to begin making the rounds for more film work. The one thing that made it a challenge for her was the fact that her husband was very well off and so if she chose to she did not need to work at all.  At the time very little was being leaked as to what Dracula was really like. There were only a teaser trailer and some bizarre looking stills making the rounds and these were all we had to go by as far as what to expect from Mr. Coppola.
Florina and I.
I remember trying to find a screening during the weeks before the film would open nationally when Florina phoned me one afternoon asking me if I would care to be her escort for a special screening of Dracula in Westwood. I laughed when she told me this considering all the calls I had been making trying to get a screening and now I was going to watch this film with one of Dracula's brides.  The night of the screening we arrived in Westwood where we were met by Columbia studio publicity and were told where they would like her to stand for photos and to also make herself available for interviews after the screening.  One Columbia staffer took me aside at one point asking if I were Florina'a husband, and when I explained that I was not and we were just friends I could see this was not what the Columbia people wanted or needed to hear so we just parted very quickly and I returned to where Florina was waiting. Florina looked every inch the Romanian princess that night and now we were seated in the downstairs gallery waiting for the lights to go down and finally see this much anticipated version of Bram Stoker's classic tale.

Florina had been telling me all evening of just how much work she had put into this film including hours of working out on trampolines while also being suspended in mid air by giant cranes to help create the illusion of flying.  The bride sequence was very well thought out with many special effects. Florina even had real snakes placed in her hair at one time!
The only way to die.....via beautiful vampires. Count me in!
By the time her moment came in the film she was holding my hand as she was so nervous, and then her nerves turned to anger as she began to realize that the majority of her work in the film had been cut down to practically nothing. Gone was all the references to Medusa and the snakes, her flying and falling through space.  We sat there until the credits ran off the screen and then waited until the theater was empty before getting up to leave. Florina simply could not believe that Francis would cut so much of a sequence that took weeks to put together at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.  I cannot remember her exact words but this was a great disappointment to her of that I could tell and now looking back two decades later I can see the fallout of this prevented her from pursuing a film career.  I can imagine her husband was relived however since she was home and not planning any more film related trips.           
Two vampire queens!
I would see her again for Halloween as she came over to my place in Beverly Hills and we went to an Imagi-movies party on Melrose. The very last time we would see each other would be several weeks later as I was roped into doing a charity affair in West Hollywood at the famed House of Blues on Sunset where the annual Garlic Festival was having a vampire themed party. I was co-hosting the event under the name of David Del Vlad and as a special guest I talked Florina into coming up from Long Beach for the occasion. As she made her way up to the bandstand to be introduced she looked so amazing that night with just the right amount of glamour and style. Florina took the mike and addressed the crowd in Romanian and afterwards she looked in my direction and said before everyone, “I came out this evening because it was my pleasure to do so, but as a rule I don't really do these kind of things anymore. But I did this evening as a favor to David Del Valle or should I say Vlad for him there is very little I would not do since he is my good friend.

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